Japanese group to sue over emperor's enthronement funding

Emperor Akihito (above), who is set to abdicate next year, will be succeeded by his son, Crown Prince Naruhito. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Dozens of Japanese citizens, including members of Christian groups and Buddhist monks, are planning to sue the government over its plan to use taxpayer money for ceremonies next year to mark the new emperor's enthronement.

At least 120 people plan to launch the lawsuit in early December, arguing that funding what they deem are religious ceremonies from the national budget violates the constitutional principle separating religion and state.

It is believed to be the first suit of its kind filed over Crown Prince Naruhito's ascent to the Chrysanthemum throne set for May 1, the day after his father, Emperor Akihito, abdicates.

However, similar suits were filed against the government when Akihito was enthroned in 1990 after the death of his father, Emperor Hirohito.

All of the cases at that time were thrown out, but one upper court said it cannot deny the suspicion that some ceremonies violate the principle of religion and state.

"At the last enthronement, some 1,700 plaintiffs filed lawsuits, and there was certain public support," Koichi Shin, one of those planning to take the government to court, told AFP.

He said that ceremonies in 1990 cost around 12.3 billion yen at the time (S$148.7 million at the current exchange rate). The budget for next year's ceremonies has not been made public.

After the May enthronement, the government also plans to hold two major ceremonies, one in October and the other in November, following the example of 30 years ago.

"These are religious ceremonies based on imperial Shintoism," Shin said, referring to a form of an ancient Japanese religion practised by Japanese royal families.

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